Bringing Tuscany home
Using Native Hill Country limestone, combined with Italian white marble and lava stone, a suburban Texas home expertly replicates the Italian countryside
Jack and Veronica Kelly of Boerne, TX, lived and worked in Italy for several years before settling in Cordillera Ranch, an 8,700-acre master-planned, gated residential community located north of San Antonio, TX. When envisioning their new home, they wanted it to be influenced by the experiences they so cherished during their many trips abroad. The 9,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, seven-bathroom Italian farmhouse, completed in July of 2013, sits on 18 acres and evokes visions of the Italian countryside. The couple managed material imports themselves, with the help and guidance of Piero Girodo of America Italiana. This included a 10-day shopping trip with the architect, Jim Calcara of 360 Architecture in Kansas City, MO, to purchase native materials. Additionally, they chose local fieldstone to create the Old World-style design they were seeking for their new home.
The homeowners’ dream was for the house to appear as though it were a Tuscan farmhouse built over 100 years ago. “For me, it was really about creating something that made me feel the way I felt when we spent time in Italy — a feeling of being at home, warm and comfortable, quieted and relaxed,” they explained. “And the materials, like the stone, were key to this.”
To achieve their vision, 260 tons of Hill Country limestone, purchased from Rockscapes in Kerrville, TX, was used, with 80% of that being employed for the home’s exterior design. “We did not know which specific stone we would use when we started,” explained Calcara. “In Italy, like the food, it is traditionally sourced locally and that was our intent. The stone mason on the job, R. San Miguel and Co., sourced and provided the stone from the local area. In fact, on several visits to the site, a truck arrived and dumped a load of random-sized fieldstone and the masons set to work chipping and sizing the stone. The architectural drawings were also quite accurate in showing the intent of the stone pattern and the inclusion of seemingly random inclusion of brick and tile shards.”
According to the homeowner, the native limestone was chosen for its locale and because it best matched the stone from the Val D’Orcia region of Tuscany. “Local was important because if this house were in Tuscany, they would tend to use only local products — those native to the area,” she said. “This would lend to the house fitting in well to its environment. On the interior, the stone provides a warmth and depth to large rooms and small. Since the exterior is all stone, it looks as though it grew from the land around it.”
The stone has a rough, natural finish and because it was cut by hand, sizes and shapes were completely random. Additionally, no sealant was used, so the natural shedding process of the stone could occur.
While the exterior design extensively features Hill Country limestone, other stones were used to create the rustic Italian atmosphere. The outdoor kitchen countertops are fabricated from Lavic stone — quarried in Sicily and supplied by Nicolo’ Giuliano SRL in Italy. Additionally, the entire house, both inside and out, features terra-cotta flooring from Cristiani Pavimenti D’Autore in Italy, with the exception of the master suite and office, which have wood floors.
Inside the residence, the Tuscan feel was achieved with several other stones in addition to the limestone. “The indoor fireplace was hand carved in Charcoal Lueders limestone, [which was supplied by Stone Source in Boerne, TX],” said the homeowner. “We used a red firebrick in fireplaces and tumbled the firebrick to make them look aged.”
Further contributing to the Italian aesthetic, the kitchen countertops were fabricated from Carrara marble — giving a worn, but elegant Italian look. The material, which was also used for the full-length vanity top and shower in the master bath, came from Mobili Di Castello in Italy. Complementing the white Italian marble in the master bath, a terra-cotta tile ceiling was installed in the classic fashion — one tile at a time resting on wood purlins.
“To tie the design together, we used reclaimed terra-cotta roof tiles from Italy. All of the Carrara marble and lava stone came from Italy rather than purchased from a local supplier because we wanted a more traditional thicker slab that they don’t normally have in the U.S.”
An intricate installation
It was a collaborative effort to pull the Tuscan design together. “Mock-ups were provided, and we looked for the handcrafted feel and the use of brick pieces to give the authentic look that we had desired,” explained Calcara. “Pictures of the Borgo Finocchieto in Buonconvento, Italy, were shared with the masonry contractor to help illustrate what we were looking for. [The homeowner] also did almost daily site visits to insure that we were clear about what we were trying to achieve.”
Naturally, a project of this size presents several issues and challenges. “Being in Kansas City made it difficult to visit the site often,” said Calcara. “But with [the homeowner’s] daily visits (and visits by Ed Hurtig, the project architect) and a few visits at crucial times with the use of the drawings and the mock-up, ultimately, we were quite successful. Also, it was a challenge to achieve an authentic, Tuscan, handcrafted feel. It’s just not always done that way and with a large crew constant vigilance was required to achieve consistency.”
The homeowner also found it difficult to bring the traditional Tuscan look to fruition. “Our biggest challenge was keeping to the original overall design goal in all things,” she explained. “We had to continually ask ourselves, ‘Is this how it would have been built?’ or ‘Is this what they would have done in restoring [the stone]?’
“With regard to the stone, the issue was keeping it randomly sized and shaped as it would have been done back then and cutting everything by hand,” the homeowner went on to say. “To overcome this, I was involved in every detail and onsite almost daily. I worked directly with the stone mason, JJ San Miguel of R. San Miguel and Co. of Boerne, TX, showing him pictures of what the buildings look like in that region. The masonry contractor and his crew were extremely important to the final overall look, and they nailed it.”
The reaction to the completed home has been very positive from all sides. “So many people come to the house and begin reminiscing about their trips to Tuscany,” said the homeowner. “They say it makes them feel like they are actually there. The stone and other natural materials provide such a warm and inviting atmosphere.”
Calcara agrees wholeheartedly. “The reaction has been very positive — from disbelief that this is a new building to ‘I truly feel that you have captured a Tuscan villa,’” he said. “The drawings and plans that we did could not have accomplished this without an owner dedicated to this project and their complete understanding of the Italian way. The masonry contractor absolutely got it and was a key component on the project.” cstd
Architect: 360 Architecture, Kansas City, MO
Stone Suppliers: Rockscapes, Kerrville, TX (Hill Country limestone); Stone Source, Boerne, TX (Lueders limestone); Cristiani Pavimenti D’Autore, Italy (terra-cotta); Nicolo’ Giuliano SRL, Italy (lava stone, Carrara marble)
Stone Installer: R. San Miguel and Company, Boerne, TX